NORFOLK, Va. – The MacArthur Memorial’s copy of General Emilio Aguinaldo’s 1899 declaration of independence is a finalist for a conservation prize from the Virginia Association of Museums (VAM). The proclamation is the only one of its kind in existence and is extremely fragile and in need of conservation.
During the Spanish-American War (1898), Philippine revolutionary leader Emilio Aguinaldo declared the Philippines independent of Spain. When the postwar settlement made his nation a territory of the United States, Aguinaldo declared the Philippines independent from the United States on January 5, 1899. A Philippine newspaper, La Independencia, printed copies of his declaration which were then put up across the city of Manila. The Memorial’s copy of the proclamation was torn down and saved by an American soldier who wrote at bottom of the document: “Issued on January 5 – ’99, which will no doubt be the cause of war with the Insurgents.” It was a prescient statement. About a month later, U.S. and Filipino forces met in combat, marking the start of the Philippine-American War (1899-1902).
Aguinaldo was captured in 1901 and was convinced by U.S. Army General Arthur MacArthur, Jr. to swear allegiance to the United States. Decades later, the general’s son, General Douglas MacArthur led the liberation of the Philippines from Japanese occupation, setting the stage for Philippine independence in 1946. In 1958, General Douglas MacArthur was gifted a scrapbook that contained the declaration. In 1964, the scrapbook was donated to the City of Norfolk’s MacArthur Memorial Museum and Archives. The document was discovered inside the scrapbook by MacArthur Memorial staff in 2018.
The public can help fund the conservation of this artifact by voting for it on VAM’s website. The artifact with the most votes will receive $1000 to fund conservation. Voting is FREE and open Feb. 20 - March 3. Individuals can vote daily.